Kyriakos Mitsotakis aims to reduce tensions in meeting with Turkey’s president,
Greece’s prime minister will meet Turkey’s president on Wednesday in an attempt to ease frictions over energy exploration and Ankara’s deal with Libya on Mediterranean maritime zones, a government spokesman has said.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of a Nato alliance summit in London, the Greek spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
“We hope that the meeting tomorrow will be a meeting where it will be possible to pave the way for a new form of respect for international law and for the two countries’ good neighbourly relations,” he told reporters.
Libya and Turkey signed an agreement on boundaries in the Mediterranean last week that could complicate Ankara’s disputes over offshore energy exploration with countries including Greece.
Athens says the accord is geographically absurd because it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya.
Petsas said that following the announcement of the accord with Libya, Greece warned Libya’s ambassador to Athens that if he failed to provide clarifications to the Greek government over the deal he would be expelled.
Athens has already sought support from the European Union and Nato, which Petsas said “could not stand indifferent when one of its members openly violates international law”.
The Greek government said it hoped the talks between Mitsotakis and Erdoğan on the sidelines of the Nato gathering could help de-escalate tensions. Wednesday’s meeting will be the first time since assuming office in July that the centre-right Greek leader has met Erdoğan.
“We hope it’s a meeting in which it’s possible to pave the way for a new form of respect for international law and for the two countries’ good neighbourly relations,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mitsotakis said it was “in Turkey’s interest” to rescind what he described as “provocative actions”.
“We will talk with our cards on the table,” he told the country’s state news agency. “Turkey’s attempt to abolish the maritime borders of islands like Crete, Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastellorizo with tricks such as void bilateral memorandums of understanding, will not produce internationally legal results,” he added. “[Ankara] cannot challenge the sovereign rights of our islands, which are enshrined in international law and particularly by the Law of the Sea.”
Athens accuses Ankara, which refuses to recognise the maritime convention, of raising groundless claims against Greece by deliberately disputing the continental shelves of its islands.
Greece and Turkey have come to the brink of war five times since 1967.
Bilateral tensions have once again soared amid bitter exchanges over offshore energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and refugees. Turkey has furiously disputed moves by Cyprus to push ahead with drilling in disputed waters off the island. Last year it dispatched gunboats to prevent an Italian oil company, commissioned by the Greek Cypriot government, from participating in the search for underwater gas deposits.
Far from easing that friction, the Libyan-Turkish deal is likely to exacerbate it.
Highlighting those fears, the U.S ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, voiced concern the accord could threaten the stability Washington has “sought to encourage” in the increasingly turbulent region.
Ahead of Wednesday’s high-level talks, political analysts agreed.
“Athens is very worried because it sees a Turkey now lead by a man who is determined to play as hard abroad as he does at home,” said Angelos Syrigos, professor of international law at Panteion university and an MP in the ruling New Democracy party.
“That means employing any and all means, including gunboat diplomacy,” he told the Guardian. “Ankara’s aggression to great degree has been encouraged by both Washington and Moscow endorsing its invasion of Syria.”